recent posts

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Featuring RD Armstrong

Bungalows on De Longpre

The bungalows on De Longpre
do not sing a happy tune
do not stand out like a vase of
happy yellow flowers w/
brown faces and radiant petals

The bungalows on De Longpre --
a skidmark off of Normandie
in the cracked stucco jungle
of east Hollywood
Walls stained w/ the rust
of lorca’s tears, of grieving widows
at the gates of paramount studios
standing at the intersection of the
avenida de los lost souls and the parque
of the disappeared w/ crumpled renderings
of lost familia pleading w/ red eyes and
tear-stained cheeks for hope or charity

The bungalows on De Longpre
do not speak a known language but
mumble in a dialect inaudible except to dogs:
sounds like bones being slowly crushed
by a large stone wheel

The bungalows on De Longpre
looking tedious and unrepentant
on a Saturday afternoon in humorless sunshine
standing like monuments to the War All The
Time of 1966 Los Angeles and the sweet
miracle of words ratcheted loose
from the yawning mouth of death
and nailed to the page by the clackity-clack
of a drunken two o’clock in the morning typewriter.

Death Comes Stumbling

Death comes stumbling through an open door
any door will do
Death isn’t too choosey
these days
Death is overworked and underpaid
a day late and a dollar short
Death wants to take a break
but is understaffed and can’t get away
even for a weekend.

I think about death differently
ever since that morning in January
when Death spun me around
and dropped me on the floor
like a rag doll,
my life flashing before my eyes,
the thread that tied me to this life,
unraveling before my eyes
while my girlfriend smiled
and nodded
at me.

Death isn’t that melodramatic departure
that I dreamed of as a child
or that martyred sacrificial lamb
dropped in the service of some great calling
“Nobility of Sacrifice for the cause”
that I mistakenly longed for as a young adult
And, most likely, Death
will not come for me like an old friend
in my stinking old age
to ease my ancient suffering.

No, Death will keep taking pot shots at me
like a weekend “plinker”
riddling my roadside sign life until it drops
onto the shoulder of the highway
more air than sign.

Death will pick at me
like a scab,
pulling me apart
one piece at a time.

Last Stop

The old guy sat at the table
with his wife
his back faced the room
a tuft of very white hair stood
on his head like a cloud
hovering close
over San Joaquin

The old guy was about as big around
as a minute
his clothes hung loosely on his frame.
He was doing his best to fill them
with what was left.

The old guy's wife smiled
and spoke to him in a low voice
inaudible to the rest of the room
her eyes twinkled
as he worked on a piece of cake
and sipped a cappuccino
his hands trembling.

As they left
she balanced his frail frame
against her own
he was going as fast as he could
and soon he would be gone

(‘Last Stop’ was awarded first place in the Charles Bukowski Poetry Contest, San Pedro, 16 August 2015)

Raft of Morphine

Photographic images mix
with memories and recent occurrences
forming a scrapbook montage
in my mind’s eye, a constant
source of distraction
everyday, but even more
appreciated on this day,
day of waiting,
day of passage, perhaps, or
merely day of floating closer to the edge.

You lay sleeping on your raft of morphine
drifting in a cool white fog
towards the end of the world
towards the rim where the waters of sleep
spill over into oblivion.

I cannot be with you
dare not swim in those waters
out to your raft.
but I am with you in spirit
floating with you
my hands resting on your
sleeping form, as if touching
would make such a difference,
as if being there would matter.

It cannot matter that
there is a hard spot in my chest
or that I am so sad or
that I would choke on my tears
if I could see you now.

Only this fact that I honor
my memories of you
that I will always see you
as I saw you ten years ago:
my father’s older brother
and my uncle Jim, a man
I respect
only this will matter
and only to me.

But I must let you go now
I can hear the roar of the water
it’s deafening and yet, it comforts.

You drift on, then, and 

YardBird Burned

YardBird burned
All Wick -- No Candle

Made it to the sun and back

Unlike Icarus --

YardBird couldn’t burn out --

his spirit was the flame by which
HE burned.

YardBird burned
‘til there was only
a husk left
‘til all the notes --
the be-boppin’ bitty
black notes --
were piled at his feet
like cigar ash.
swung his sax
in a mighty arc
like an ax
spinning like
a Dervish
a niche
out of the
granite walls
of Swing-Jazz-Tradition.

YardBird shaped
a Bop See-gar-cough-a-gus
out of his to-brief-time
spent on planet Earth.
The Bop-line
firing volley after volley
of bitty-black notes
skyward -- unleashing
them like blackbirds
blotting out reality’s
harsh light ‘til
the wee-wee hours.

YardBird was never
at ease, at rest
Fingers always a blur
until time shifted gears
in self-defense --
into SLOW-motion then to
YardBird smiled ‘cause
only he saw the joke.

YardBird burned.
Did not really play
his sax -- it played him
Played him until his “reed”
fell apart -- broke down
Broke Bird down --
Time finished him
with a smile
on his face --
death by cosmic relief

You say it was H that
took his life but you
are wrong.
H lulled Mr Charley
into slowing down
Hip-no-(N)ticed him
H slowed him down --
promised him the means
to survive this heartbreak
We call surviving.

H slowed the bird down --
gave Time a clean shot.
Time took it from there.


Edging Along A Pock-marked Wall
by RD Armstrong

“I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member.” Groucho Marx

I’ve always been leery of being labeled, perhaps because I’ve been a non-conformist for most of my life, coming from that generation of non-conformists that later would be known as the baby boomers.  Most of us started out as non-conformers, then hippies, then yuppies, then the greedy SOBs that have made America (in part) what it is today.  But while most of the country has moved to the right, I have continued down the road (much) less traveled.  I have plugged away for many years, sometimes wondering (and sometimes not) where this road will lead and what the end result of my persisting on it will be.  Ultimately, I think that this is not a journey from point A to point B, but more a passage; one that began some time ago and will end sometime in the future.  It’s all very zen…very mystical, and I like it that way.

That’s one of the things that is missing in this world in which I live (and so to, in the art that I do that reflects this world): a spiritual base.  I don’t mean some dogma from Catholicism or even Buddhism.  What I mean is some kind of connection to this world that goes beyond mere physicality.  I have stuff, things I’ve acquired, that I move from rental to rental, that I’m connected to by dint of ownership, but there is precious little to remind me of my esoteric connection to this world.  I have a few books of a mystical nature but beyond that there is really only one thing that serves to provide a connection and that is poetry, both mine and selections from various poets I’ve read over the past thirty-five years.

When Todd Moore first floated the idea past me that I was an “outlaw” poet, I really wasn’t sure what he meant.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the phrase; after all, there was the Outlaw Bible of Poetry (a book I’d been excluded from because of politics), but that was kinda silly because it included the work of the famous poet James Dean and even I knew that, that, was a crock of shit.  Then there was this genre of Outlaw Poets that included a group of guys that I knew were a joke, so I was naturally confused.  What was Todd tryin’ to lump me in with?  

I’ve been goin’ my way, all these years and I have muddled through, being mostly self-taught when it comes to this poetry thing.  I was, of course, a big fan of the BUK (all along) and a sporadic fan of Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg.  But not so much as the BUK, who was my guiding light or darkness, depending on your natural persuasion.  Unfortunately, I never reached my maturity while BUK was alive (well, not fully at least).  I was able to share one poem with him before he “shuffled off this mortal coil.”  It was, ironically, an ode to his final days.  So I sprang from BUK into this so-called outlaw life.  But it would be years before I would actually be an “outlaw.”

Ironically, my whole life has been lived as an outlaw.  I have been, as the saying goes, flying below the radar, since I was old enough to hold down a job.  So the outlaw life, as it is portrayed in the media, has been my life “style.”  Yet, I find this label somehow troubling.  This may be a result of the fear of being labeled.  I don’t see myself as an Outlaw Poet.  But I do see myself as a poet who exists outside the norm, operating in a vacuum, as it were.  But again, this is a condition of living in the metropolitan world of Los Angeles and feeling as if I am laboring in a bubble.  

If I had the amazing countryside of New Mexico as a backdrop, I might be able to establish the dialogue necessary to join the two realms of my world together. I know I’m drawn to this region, but I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s the starkness of the landscape or the relative lack of population.  It’s hard to see the quirks in humanity when you are engulfed in a sea of people.  I don’t know if that makes sense or not.  I find that, while I’m influenced by my surroundings, I do not necessarily write about my surroundings.  Living in a city, surrounded by cities (such as the L. A. Basin with millions of people all pressed together), I find that the bombardment of information (sight, sound, smells, ideas, etc.) nearly overwhelming most of the time.  But when I get out into the wilderness, be it high desert or forest, I feel cleansed after a day or two, my battery recharged, as it were.  Maybe I just need to get away.

So, as to my influences, besides the physical world and its bombardment of the senses, there have been a number of writers who have influenced me, but not as many as you might think because I am, for the most part, a literary stumblebum.  I say this because I am not a product of any institution of higher learning, nor am I a prodigious reader (the irony of this is not lost on me, since I am constantly being asked to review other poet’s books, which is a daunting task for me).  I have admired the descriptive observations of Edward Abbey, Charles Bukowski, Jay Alamares, John Thomas, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Hiatt and John Steinbeck.  Some of Hemingway’s short stories, as well as JD Salinger’s, have been interesting, as well. I like Dennis LeHane and Todd Moore for gut wrenching visions.  And for the lyrical stuff that gives me the goosebumps, I read Leonard J. Cirino and Rebecca Morrison; and, I really like Tom Waits.  His ability to capture poignant moments in his ballads just blows me away (perhaps this is why I like to sing his songs so much).  There are probably a lot more people I’m forgetting, but this covers a lot of ground.  I like these writers because they are “plain-talking” and by that I mean that I understand what I read.  I don’t have to read it over and over to “get” it.  I don’t have to understand the style to get it.  Plus, I can relate to the characters and/or themes.   

I should also mention that I have a case of wanderlust that borders on mania: put me in an old truck on an old two lane road and I’m in hog heaven.  Of course these days, it’s damn near impossible to find an old two lane, much less an old truck that doesn’t cost more than a new car, and with gas nudging into the three dollar range…well you get the idea.  I’m nearly crazy at being so frustrated.  Thank god I still remember snippets of old trucks and old roads past.  I’ve had more love affairs with old trucks than I’ve had with women – and that says a lot about how far off the beaten path I am.

This whole business about being an outlaw, well it just makes me queasy.  I’ve known a number of poets who would like nothing better than to be remembered as “outlaws” – but as Todd once told me, a true outlaw doesn’t need to brag about it.  I don’t need to succumb to bragging about it, but I don’t think I even want to be known that way because most of the poets I know who call themselves outlaw are not the kind I’d want to be associated with.  Maybe it’s too hip to be known as “outlaw” or maybe I just don’t want to be lumped into that group.  I pretty much feel I’m a lone wolf on the horizon…being called outlaw, well it seems to be almost too crowded.

As to my energy, or that which fires me to do this…I find that I tend to write out of anger, even if my writing is not angry.  This is not the world I thought I’d be living in.  There is so much suffering and cruelty.  I really believed we would have transcended this by now.  But we have not.  It’s as if history just began at the start of the 20th Century.  I thought that all the bullshit we went through with WWI and WWII and all the other bloody conflicts since would have put our bloodlust in check, but no…So when I think about how stupid we are as a race, I tend to react with violence and anger and frustration.  I mean, what the fuck?!  Then my humanity kicks in and the next thing I know I’m writing with compassion.  How could I possibly an “outlaw poet”?

I’m really an outsider. I’ve always been; a stranger in a strange land.  Maybe this should be a new category.  I don’t know what else to say.

Living with con-artists, liars and thieves
Some years ago, it came to my attention that a poet from back east, who was famous for his tales of mayhem during and after the Viet Nam war (where he claimed he was disfigured while he served as a Navy Seal), was lying about his whole war experience.  It’s even doubtful that he served at all.  Yet his books (which were published by the thousands by a reputable press operated by Henry Rollins) are often cited as true chronicles of that horrible time.  Apparently he had a vivid imagination.
Then, last year, a poet of modest success here in the kingdom known as the small press (or more accurately, the alternative small press), staged his own death.  This guy couldn’t get enough play from the drek (my opinion) that he called poetry, so he decided to pull a fast one, letting it be known that he had finally succumbed to his demons and taken his own life.  When he was found out (and he was found out because he announced that he was still alive), a shockwave of disgust and anger rocked those of us who gave a damn…imagine, a poet operating with impaired judgment and an ego the size of Penn Station!  Shocking, indeed.  This was a bitter pill to swallow for all the editors who’d been busy fitting this guy for a halo and a pair of wings.  Naturally they were pissed off for being tricked as well.  No surprise there.  Nobody likes to be fooled.
Now there’s a "poet" who claims to be Algerian poet, Amari Hamadene*, who is submitting work around The Web that he has plagiarized from other poets whose work has been published on reputable websites, such as Pedestal Magazine.  What has become of our little poetry heaven?  Yes, it’s a deceitful world, but not in our ‘house’ – say it isn’t so!
Well friends, it is so!  And it’s a damned shame, too.  But, let’s get serious for a moment.  How can we be surprised by any of this?  After all, isn’t it high time that we (I speak as an editor as well as some poet with an opinion) accepted some of our responsibility in all this?  I mean, these jerks wouldn’t be able to get away with this if it weren’t for the editors who supposedly know the difference between the good stuff and crap, publishing their puerile and pusillanimous drek…all in the name of artistic freedom, or free speech, or some other jingoistic nonsense.  Yes, it’s shocking when you hear of some guy over in North Africa cashing in on some “local” poet’s skills and notoriety.  This certainly isn’t the first time this has happened (I recall a friend of mine up in Oakland telling me how a certain famous poet plagiarized the first half of a poem he had written about 9/11 and there was nothing my friend could do about it, since the famous poet had so many ‘connections’) and I doubt it will be the last.
But I wonder, haven’t we encouraged this kind of behavior in our quest for a “pure” form of expression.  Wasn’t that the ideal for poetry on the Internet?  A place where one could post their poems for the “entire” world to see, unfettered by politics, risk or salability?  Where poets with no reputation or formal training could find a forum for their particular voice?  I know that, that is why I was drawn to the Web in the first place, for the promise of free expression (just as long as you didn’t violate the code of ethics of the web-hosts) in an atmosphere of anything goes.   
Since we live in a time of corruption (which is nothing new when you examine the path of history), it’s easy to understand the dichotomy between those who seek a purer forum for expression and those who just want to muck everything up.  It’s the old battle between good and evil being played out on the (supposedly) sacred grounds of poetry and we can only watch with horror and/or delight.  The crazy antics of these players are entertaining and diversionary, distracting us from the fact that the whole theatre is about to collapse under the weight of its own pretence: that poetry should be a level playing field for everyone.  Well, it’s not.  Nor should it be.  It’s as complicated a terrain as the people who travel through it.  Let’s face it, poets are just as screwed up as everyone else.  Sure we might express ourselves a little better, but basically we’re all cursed and there’s no way to get around that.  Perhaps that’s why we strive towards perfection in our chosen craft. 
There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve oneself, and I wish more people/poets would make the effort; but thinking that the problem is just a few individuals, a few rotten apples, one might say, is to be extremely naïve.  The problem, as I see it, is that we are continuously tempted to take the easy route.  It’s a hard life for most of us, and the temptations are many.  It’s hard to keep your eyes on the prize, when you’re not really sure what that prize is.
It takes discipline and focus to survive this trek.  Poetry, being the bastard step-child of literature, demands constant attention.  It’s not an easy task, in spite of what many think. It’s high time that we stop sitting on our hands and start doing something to legitimize this craft we call poetry.  Maybe there will be a union effort, or maybe it will fall to individuals to start the ball rolling, but, folks, if we’re going to make any headway, we’ve got to put our house in order.   
* I received an email from Amari Hamadene in which he claims that his name was used by an unknown person in the commission of these fraudulent submissions and that he is the victim of a hoax.  One wonders what the point is here...why would anyone bother to sign someone else's name to stolen intellectual property?  But then I suppose, given the thrust of my essay, anything is possible.


RD Armstrong aka Raindog has 18 chapbooks and 9 books to his name and has been published in over 300 poetry magazines, anthologies and e-zines.  He also operates the Lummox Press which published the Lummox Journal for 11 years; the Little Red Book series (61 titles) and the new Respect series of perfect bound collections (59 titles and counting). RD has labored to serve the world of small press poetry for over 20 years. The Lummox Poetry Anthology is one of his newest projects. Visit the website at for more info and/or ordering.

I recommend you have a look at Raindog’s blog posts, the latest one ‘Choices’ here: